The 2014 class has already started to take shape in terms of position players but the staff is looking for more quality arms. Over the last couple of weeks, there have been some high-profile visitors on campus to check out the Gamecocks.
Class of 2014 right-handed pitcher Dylan Cease
Cease makes his first trip - A fairly new name on the South Carolina recruiting board is right-hander Dylan Cease (Alpharetta, Ga./Milton), who traveled to Columbia the end of January for his first visit to campus. The Gamecocks have recruited some players from his high school team in the past and he knows about the program, but this was his first up close look.
“The facilities are amazing, the field is amazing, and overall you just feel like champions,” Cease said. “It was all real impressive to me.”
Recruiting coordinator Sammy Esposito is spearheading Cease’s recruitment but head coach Chad Holbrook and pitching coach Jerry Meyers are also very much involved.
“I think it went really well,” Cease said of the trip. “Coach Esposito is definitely a nice guy and so is coach Holbrook. They’re both great guys. I talked to coach Meyers about what I’m working on in high school. It was great to talk pitching with him. He definitely knows what he’s talking about.”
Cease’s biggest upside is on the mound where he already sports a low 90s fastball that has climbed as high as 94 mph on the radar gun. He’s also a standout shortstop for his high school team and he’d like to have a chance to be a two-way player.
“I would like the opportunity to at least try to play there,” Cease said. “If I go there and I don’t earn it, I don’t expect to play there. I’d definitely like to try to play short. I will continue to work hard on it.”
Right now, Cease says he’s being recruited the hardest by in-state schools Georgia and Georgia Tech. Auburn has also been involved for a long time but South Carolina is making an impression.
This high school season, Cease says he’s focused on getting bigger and stronger. When it comes time to make a decision, he’ll look at the opportunity for playing time and the atmosphere.
Class of 2014 right-handed pitcher Clarke Schmidt
“With pitching, my fastball is my strength,” Cease said. “I’m not scared of any batter; I’ll go after anyone. As a pitcher, I don’t feel like I tire down. I can improve on my accuracy and my mechanics. I’m athletic and have a good arm at shortstop. I don’t know if I can judge myself, but I think I have pretty good range.”
Cease is ranked as the No. 79 player in the country for his class regardless of position by Perfect Game. He’s the No. 9 player in the state of Georgia and the No. 27 right-handed pitcher nationally.
Gamecocks after Schmidt - Another right-handed pitcher on the Gamecocks’ board in the 2014 class is Clarke Schmidt (Acworth, Ga./Allatoona). The name may be familiar for many in the baseball world because of his older brother. Clate Schmidt pitched for Team USA and is currently a freshman at Clemson.
Clarke is making a name for himself right now though and is being recruited by several major schools in the southeast. He has a top three, in alphabetical order, of Clemson, Georgia, and South Carolina but schools like Ole Miss and Auburn have also shown him a lot of interest.
The Gamecocks are a new player and the two sides were in contact for the first time on Sunday.
“I feel like it was a great talk with coach Esposito,” Schmidt said. “The main reason why I’m interested in South Carolina is not just that they’re known for winning but the atmosphere they bring in. I always watch them on TV and the fan base, it looks like a great atmosphere for a college athlete.”
Schmidt has ties to South Carolina living in the Palmetto State for a few years growing up. Clate was born when the family lived in Beaufort before the family moved to California where Clarke was born. The father, Dwight, was an F-18 pilot in the military and the family moved back to South Carolina before settling down in Georgia.
“I grew up watching Clemson and South Carolina and it always interested me,” Schmidt said. “Both of those schools were always my main interest. Ever since I was young, it as my dream to play college baseball and those were my two main schools.”
Class of 2014 left-handed pitcher Devin Smeltzer
Now settled in Acworth, the top schools on Schmidt’s list have a local flavor. He has visited both Georgia and Clemson and hopes to set up a visit to Columbia in the near future.
“If you’re a student-athlete, you want to research all the programs looking at you,” Schmidt said. “I feel like I already know a good bit about South Carolina and recruiting. I think it sounds like a good overall fit for me. The biggest thing for me is meeting the coaches, meeting the players, and being at the field. I want to envision myself if I end up at the school.”
Schmidt visited Georgia in the fall unofficially and went to a football game. The Bulldogs are in play primarily because he has spent a lot of his years exposed to the in-state school.
“I was a Georgia fan mainly because it’s what I grew up watching,” Schmidt said. “I went on a visit there and it was a good visit. We went to a football game and I had a great time. I loved the coaches and they have a wonderful atmosphere I’m sure, being in Athens.”
Clemson is the program he’s most familiar with because of the numerous trips he’s taken there with his brother during Clate’s recruiting process. He’s also been to campus to see his brother pitch.
“There are family ties there with my brother and it would be great to play with him,” Schmidt said. “I always went on visits with him and they also have one of the best atmospheres for baseball. They have a wonderful campus and there’s a great feel there.”
There are both pros and cons to going to the same school as his brother. On one hand, both are very close and have grown up playing on some of the same teams. On the other hand, Clarke could certainly see himself blazing his own path at a new school.
“Growing up, we always played together,” Schmidt said. “It’s a factor but at the same time, I can play against my brother. We could have one Schmidt at one school and one Schmidt at the other. It’s always good to make a name for yourself.”
In the end, Clarke will make his own decision and it will come down to the place where he feels the most comfortable. He hopes to visit Columbia in the next couple of weeks.
“There’s always academics and always the feel but the main thing is going to be what feels like home,” Schmidt said. “If you feel right and that you fit in, it’s going to be the best choice for you. When Clate made his decision, you could tell right then and there that’s where he wanted to go. Once you find the right fit, you’ll know.”
Schmidt is ranked as the No. 411 player nationally but he’s ranked as a middle infielder, not a pitcher. He is considered the top middle infielder in the state of Georgia in the 2014 class and is ranked No. 36 in the Peach State overall.
Smeltzer makes the trek - South Carolina is currently on the lookout for some top left-handed pitchers for the 2014 class and Devin Smeltzer (Voorhees, N.J./Bishop Eustace) certainly fits the bill. Smeltzer, as mentioned in this story, has a lot of schools he’s interested in and wants to take some visits.
His first visit was to South Carolina, which happened two weeks ago. He spent two nights in Columbia, toured the campus, went to a basketball game, and even spent some time fishing on Lake Murray with his family.
“I went down and it was real nice,” Smeltzer said. “We toured the campus with coach Meyers and sat down with coach Holbrook in his office. I had the chance to watch some workouts in the weight room and went to the basketball game. I really wasn’t expecting the city but the campus was beautiful. The field is unbelievable. I don’t think I’ve been anywhere that nice. It was all top notch.”
The visit was Smeltzer’s first to South Carolina, which is one of his favorite schools at this point. He stays in close contact with Holbrook and Esposito. He also hit it off well with Meyers while on campus.
“I have a pretty good relationship with the coaches,” Smeltzer said. “Me and coach Holbrook talk a lot. Coach Meyers took us around and I had a good time with that. Coach Espo, he’s the one I talk to the most. We talk almost every day it seems.”
Smeltzer, who came down with his dad, mom, and brother, to Columbia said the only other trip he has planned prior to his high school season starting is to Florida Gulf Coast at the end of February. He said he doesn’t have a timeframe to make a decision at the moment.
Smeltzer is ranked as the No. 184 player in the country regardless of position. He’s the top left-handed pitcher in New Jersey and the No. 16 left-handed pitcher nationally.
USC after another northeast lefty - In addition to Smeltzer, the Gamecocks hosted another lefty from the northeast. Class of 2014 arm Matt Hornich (Hillsborough, N.J./Hillsborough) visited South Carolina over the weekend and left with a favorable impression of the Gamecocks, especially pitching coach Jerry Meyers.
“One of the things that stuck out to me was how nice the coaching staff was,” Hornich said. “Coach Meyers took me around the stadium and we talked about the pitching aspect of things. My family liked him a lot as well. Coach Esposito took me around on Saturday. When I got on the field, I really enjoyed talking to some of the guys, especially George (Iskenderian), who is a Jersey guy. We talked about the adjustments that it would take me to succeed if I came to South Carolina.”
Meyers has made a big impression on Hornich. The two spent about an hour on the phone on Sunday and the USC pitching coach’s record of sending his players to the professional level is what caught Hornich’s eye.
“He gave me a rundown of what all his pitchers do,” Hornich said. “Seeing his background and the greats he’s had come through and getting drafted - coming to college, the goal is to get to the next level. If you have a pitching coach who can do that, that’s an awesome thing to have. Seeing a college coach get so many guys into the pros is a great thing to see.”
Hornich said he has a top four schools of South Carolina, North Carolina, Memphis, and Delaware. He’s also considering Clemson and is in the process of setting up visits to see UNC and Memphis.
As far as what he’ll look for in a school, Hornich says he will go to a place that feels the most comfortable.
“It’s got to be a school I can see myself in without baseball,” Hornich said. “I want to be somewhere that I can enjoy my time. I’m not just going to be there for baseball. I want a great campus, great people, and a great area.”
Hornich, who stands 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, sports a fastball in the mid-80s and plays his summer showcase baseball with Tri-State Arsenal.
“As a pitcher, my best aspect is my competitiveness,” Hornich said. “I’m out there to compete and I want to get everyone out. If someone gets a hit off me, I take it as an insult. I’m going to go out and pitch the same way. My best pitch is probably my fastball to get ahead then go to my breaking stuff.”
Hornich is currently ranked outside of the top 500 nationally by Perfect Game and is marked as a “High Follow.” He is ranked as the No. 7 left-handed pitcher in New Jersey and No. 156 nationally.